Josh Henley holds the waters of Genesee County close to his heart. “As a kid, I grew up on a small stream in the area and I remember heading out day after day to catch brookies (brook trout),” he says. “That stream doesn’t hold them anymore. More and more things are changing and our cold-water fisheries are slowly disappearing.” Henley is the newly-elected president of the Central Michigan Charles A. Fellows (CAF) chapter of Michigan Trout Unlimited, covering the area from Port Huron through Genesee County to parts of Shiawassee County. “Our coverage map is a little weird, I’ll admit, but we have some great fisheries and watersheds within,” he says.
Michigan Trout Unlimited is the coordination and representation of 20 local chapters and over 8,000 individuals of the national TU organization. “Our purpose is to conserve, protect and restore our local cold-water fisheries and watersheds,” adds Henley. “Through education, river clean-ups, stream improvements and the joy of fishing, we hope to make an impact.”
A cold-water fishery can be loosely defined as waters that support, on a year-round basis, wild and stocked brook trout. The water temperature of a cold-water fishery falls anywhere between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. “Seventy degrees is too warm for trout,” adds Henley. “The warmer the water, the less oxygen it has and these hot summers have started a warming trend. For example, in Genesee County, Kearsley and Thread Creeks are considered cold-water fisheries whereas the Flint River is not.”
CAF chapter members are continually active, working at water clean-ups and projects both locally and throughout the state. If Michigan Trout Unlimited puts out the call, CAF members are quick to answer. “I know there is a big project on the Manistee River that is looking for help,” adds Henley. In the meantime, CAF members work to educate young and old alike about the importance of our waterways and spend their time fishing and teaching the sport. Since the pandemic began, a lot of their plans have been put on hold but now, CAF members are getting back into it. “We just started a partnership with a Shiawassee County Veterans group and we take them out to teach them how to fly fish,” says Henley. “We plan to meet once a month until September and the first meeting was a great start.” The CAF chapter also sponsors several “Salmon in the Classroom” projects in collaboration with the DNR. “We work with Grand Blanc East Middle School and Roland-Warner in Lapeer, among others,” adds Henley. In April, the group announced a satisfactory salmon release with Roland-Warner.
One of the group’s most anticipated events is the Future Anglers of Michigan (FAM) family fishing trip. “We are always looking for ways to get young people involved in what we do and the FAM event is a big part of that goal,” says Henley. “Each year, we take a number of kids and their parents with us to do some fishing, cleaning and learning about a local fishery. It’s a great way for families to connect and spend time together.” The next FAM is scheduled to take place in 2022.
Henley has been active with the group for nearly 14 years and has seen a number of changes in our local waterways. “We have lost some cold-water fisheries due to climate change and development, but through community efforts we are making an impact,” he says. “The Flint River is miles from where it used to be in the 70s and 80s. People don’t believe it, but the water is clean and a great place to fish. It’s one of my favorites. Clean-ups, conservation and education works. We all have got to do our part. Everything is connected.”
If you are interested in becoming a member of the Charles A. Fellows Trout Unlimited chapter, you can sign up with the national organization at gifts.tu.org/member/join. Memberships include a one-year subscription to Trout magazine, discounts on gear and a lifetime of fishing buddies. “We are struggling for membership, so sign up and make a difference with us,” Henley suggests. “You can message us on Facebook or contact us directly at fellowstu.com/.” If you live in the coverage area, the national organization will direct you to the CAF chapter or you can choose to be a member of CAF chapter #709. The chapter meets twice a month in Flint for board meetings and fly-tying.
Josh Henley and his chapter members love to fish and be outdoors. The real love, however, is knowing that they are making a difference in helping our local cold-water fisheries survive. “Cold-water fisheries are in danger,” he says. “We all have to realize that everything is connected from the smallest drain to the biggest river. Our water is a commodity for us and all of nature and the best way to do our part is to treat every waterway like it is our own personal drinking water. Keeping it clean is vitally important and something that everyone can do.”
“The best way to do our part is to treat every waterway like it is our own personal drinking water.” Josh Henley
photography by Tim Jagielo